When you think of things that have come out of Iceland (Vikings, toxic debt, volcanic ash, Björk) none of them are particularly pleasant. If you were to extend this theme to food, it would be a similar result: the national dish involves putrid shark and they have a penchant for puffin and whale. So why on earth would you want to go to a restaurant that’s USP is that the chef is Icelandic?
The answer is that it is really rather good. Actually, scratch that: it is really very good. Very, very good.
Texture is pretty much a local for me, yet this was only my second visit since it opened three or four years back. Having been inspired by a trip to the champagne bar here a few weeks back, however, we took the plunge late on a Saturday night, post open air theatre. For the life of me, I cannot work out why it has taken me so long to return to dine.
The dining room, reached via the relaxing champagne bar, is a high ceilinged affair, with wine displayed in racks along two sides, one dividing the dining area from the bar, the other half-masking the area where the meals are assembled. It doesn’t have the hush of many a Michelin anointed establishment, being very laid back; an approach matched by the (uniformly fantastic) staff, who were relaxed and friendly, helpfully suggesting certain dishes (which we ignored) and interesting wine (which we went along with).
Food should always be the main point of a restaurant, but everything around the food (the service, the atmosphere, the wine) can elevate good food to great, just as easily as great food to rubbish (thank you Gidleigh Park). I cannot think of a better restaurant that I have been to in London for a long time. It is up there with Hibiscus, the Ledbury, the Square and even everyone’s 2011 darling: Diner by Heston B.
The amuse bouche was a pea and mint affair, with the first of the evening’s “snows”. We’ve had smears, foams and other affectations posing as The Next Big Thing, but (other than at Noma), I don’t think I’ve had snow before. This one was green and minty, and came with a green and peay mousse; a delightful mixture of textures, tastes and temperatures.
For starters we had the crab and the asparagus. The crab came in coconut sauce and a gazpacho in two parts; the traditional chilled soup and a pink snow. Lovely; light, great tastes, complimentary textures. The asparagus was excellent too, this time the snow being parmesan. Perhaps the only time you should ever eat yellow snow. Having said that, parmesan snow was the only thing all evening that didn’t really work. Sorry. Nobody is perfect, but parmesan done as a crisp (as it was here too) is the best way for the hard, salty formaggio, and freezing it just didn’t do it for me.
Mains continued the extremely high standard. Suckling pig came in three sections, with meltingly tender meat, crispy skin and being accompanied by the most perfect pork scratching ever. And I know my pork scratchings. The lamb, all the way from the Pyrenees, was accompanied by wild Icelandic herbs. I couldn’t place any of them, but they worked as well as the far more traditional mint sauce.
We ducked the deserts and instead settled on the coffee and petit fours. Again, all excellent, even the one advertised as “fisherman’s friend”, which was a meringue on a stick that indeed tasted of the traditional menthol eucalyptus lozenge.
The wine list is, as you’d expect when compiled by somebody who was UK sommelier of the year at the tender age of 22, terrific; not only in terms of geographic spread, but also price range and in the availability of wines by the glass. 22? I mean come on: when I was that age I had just about worked out that d’Yquem was a rather expensive desert wine, not the noise a Frenchman makes when he sneezes. Sometime life just isn’t fair.
Our excellent sommelier (who was given the rather hard task of pairing a white wine with crab, asparagus, pig and lamb) came up with an excellent Languedoc-Roussillion that was delicate enough not to overpower the crab, but bold enough not to be swamped by the lamb.
All this comes at a price of course, of course, and that price is high. Not Alain Ducasse high, but still not the sort of place you come to if you’re brassic.
So go please, I beg you. Just not so many of you that I can’t get a table when I next want one.